Listening to ISS Expedition 1

Sven Grahn


31 October, 2000

The Soyuz TM-31 spacecraft carrying commander Yuri Gidzenko, flight engineer Sergei Krikalev, and Expedition-1 commander Bill Shepherd of NASA  was launched into fog from the "Gagarin pad" at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 0753 UT on Oct 31. The crew used Gidzenko's callsign "Uran" during their flight in the Soyuz.

During the first day, the orbit was raised to a period of 89.6 minutes which was maintained up to the point when the final climb to ISS was initiated on 2 November (see figure on the right).

During 31 october I was at work all day, so I tried pick up Soyuz TM-31 on 121.75 MHz with my computercontrolled time switch for the radio and tape recorder, but - to my surprise - the Windows clock did not run properly and all recordings were made 10 minutes too late. When I rebooted the computer the problem disappeared.

1 November, 2000

On November 1,  I autorecorded three passes. The recption times are shown in red in the map below. It is difficult to judge which station in Russia was used as the one farthest to the west. Was it St Petersburg or Moscow?

The crew's mike was open during the passes, but they did not say much. On the 1353-1356 UT pass they reported an engine burn and kept using the term "illuminatora VSK".  This referred to condensation of water near the periscope in the descent module of the Soyuz, specifically the viewing screen. The advise from the ground was to switch on electrical heating and ventilator near port-hole.

2 November, 2000

On 2 November Chris van den Berg in the Hague monitored the approach to ISS on 121.75 MHz until 0914.50 UT when the distance was 80 meters and the approach speed was 0.4 m/sec. Soyuz TM-31 docked at Zvezda's rear port at 0921 UT.

On the next pass reports from Chris van den Berg and other trackers in Europe showed that the crew still used 121.75 MHz and that they reported on hatch opening (which occured at 1023 UT).

My autorecording system only permits the radio to be tuned to one frequency and I had banked on the crew swicthing to the good old Mir frequency (VHF1) of 143.625 MHz soon oafter entering ISS. However, it took until three hours after docking before they appeared on this frequency. However, when they finally did, I was rewarded by a message in which Bill Shepherd thanks ground crews in English (92 kB,mp3) (1227 UT, 2 Nov 2000). On the next pass Chris van den Berg heard the crew call at 1356.11 UT: TsUP THIS IS ALPHA,   HOW DO YOU READ?? This was somewhat of a coup from the crew and NASA Administrator Goldin had to approve 'Station Alpha' as the ISS callsign for the duration of the first expedition.

4 November, 2000

During passes over Europe two days after the docking, the crew left the mike open during some passes and the voice from the control center in Moscow was heard very well. Listen to this recording made at 1026.17-1030.22 UT on 143.625 MHz. No voice in English ahs been heard after Bill Shepherd's inital thank-you-message to ground crews.

5 November, 2000 - data bursts on the voice link

Data bursts similar to those picked up from mir were heard on 143.625 MHz. Listen to this excerpt recorded at about 1240 UT. According to a message on Hearsat-L from Ivan Artner these bursts are probably "the 1200Baud radio amateur AX.25 packet radio system often heard from MIR when they were in range of russian tracking stations. This system is ham radio gear but often used for official traffic with TsUP for transfering lists, files etc. so while it's for ham use I think that the russians found it reliable and handy for daily work..(at least much better than their 100Baud teleprinter system was)".

Use of VHF ground stations in the United States

Reports started coming from US space listeners already on 2 November 2000 that  voice from ISS was heard on 143.625 MHz, indicating that the U.S. ground stations set up during the Shuttle-Mir program had been reactivated for ISS's Expedition 1. These stations are located at NASA's installations at Wallops Island (Virginia), White Sands (New Mexico), and Dryden Flight Center (California).

For example, on 4 November, 2000, Jim Kunowsky near Richmond, Virginia and Ron Boyle at Hornell, New York picked up solid voice on 143.625 MHz during the passes shown in the map below (which shows the coverage zones around stations at Wallops Island, White Sands, and Dryden Flight Center)

Some details about procedures during Expedition1

The crew will work with GMT and the working and rest hours are related to this times. The ISS active day is 0500 - 2000 UT, which equates to 0800 - 2300 Moscow Time and 0000 - 1500 EST. As Bob Christy noted in an e-mail to the listserver Hearsat-L "this will mean that the opportunity to intercept radio transmissions will be cyclic as the orbit precesses. Any given location will be able to sample onboard activity at different times of the working day as the precession brings passes a little earlier from day to day."

The crew will use the communications equipment of Zvezda and Zarya for communications with both flight control teams (Moscow and Houston) and the S-band communications gear in the Unity.  So mainly the same frequency as those during MIR-operations will be in use.  In the future the crew gets also the possibility to use Ku-band links via TDRS , but this will be much later. The equipment for that purpose is in the recently(during mission STS-92) installed Z1 structure.

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